Lonely no more: Campaign confronts isolation among seniors
Growing old can be a lonely process. For some seniors, the deaths of spouses, family members and friends can leave them feeling isolated and depressed.
To combat the problem, a national campaign in the U.K. is reaching out to seniors to break the cycle of loneliness, and some smaller groups are experimenting with similar efforts in Canada.
Feelings of loneliness have been linked to serious health concerns among seniors, including depression, dementia and higher rates of hospitalization. Studies have shown that about 30 per cent of seniors feel lonely on a regular basis, and that number rises to 80 per cent for those 85 and older.
"They feel unwanted. They feel rejected. They feel unloved. They feel that they're not important. They're not included," York University psychologist Ami Rokach told CTV News.
The Campaign to End Loneliness aims to tackle the problem by treating it as a public health concern. By harnessing a network of organizations across the U.K., the project works to support seniors who feel isolated by providing activities to address loneliness and pressuring the government to prioritize the issue.
The campaign also calls on volunteers to perform "acts of kindness," such as a regular phone call or a friendly visit, to brighten a senior's day.
For 89-year-old Gerald Richard Gillman from Toronto, the feeling of loneliness came as a surprise.
"You grow up and get married. You've got a wife, you've got children, you've got friends around you … and then you suddenly realize, 'Hey, there is only me left,'" Gillman said.
To address those feelings, Gillman relies on paid visits from the St. Elizabeth Agency, a not-for-profit organization that operates across Canada. The visits provide him with brief breaks from his prolonged time alone.
A similar program is offered by the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care in Toronto, where volunteers make phone calls to seniors once a week.
"They look forward to my call. For some of them, it is the only call they get all day probably. And I get as much out of it as they do, I believe," said volunteer Robbi Wilson.
Rokach says programs like these show some momentum in conquering loneliness.
"We are getting loneliness out of the closet. Especially when it deals with the elderly and we want to do something about it. And I think that's wonderful," he said.
With a report from CTV's medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip